American Elephants

A Dangerous World — The Wages of Weakness. by The Elephant's Child

Obama Profile

No president in my memory has so often referred to himself as “the President of the United States of America”or as “the Commander in Chief,” as if he needs to keep reminding everyone of his importance. Perhaps I’m being unfair. George W. Bush often said of himself “I’m the decider.” That seemed to me to be a humble statement that the troubles of the world landed on his desk and he had to make a difficult decision—whether it turned out well or ill. As I said, perhaps I’m being unfair.

But Bush was right. Decisions have to be made. We may make a decision about Iraq, but as in all conflicts, the other side gets a vote. The Obama administration has admitted that they were blindsided by the ISIS invasion of Iraq and their rapid progress. Obama is accustomed to, well, dithering. He doesn’t like foreign affairs. He likes traveling with an enormous entourage to other countries and making a speech or two, but he came to office convinced that America was a world bully, interfering in other countries, and was no more exceptional than any other country. He has followed a deliberate policy of disengaging from the world and its quarrels.

We called it “the Apology Tour” when Obama made his way around the world bowing to foreign rulers and apologizing for our influence in world affairs. Democrats were offended at the name, but is that really what Democrats believe, that we should fail to assert a positive influence over world events? Or have they remained too enamored with Obama himself to have given it much thought? The world clearly expects more American leadership. Many countries have not done much about raising a military or acquiring major weapons because we were there.

Obama drew a red line that did not faze Assad, turned the Syrian bloodbath over to Vladimir Putin, which undoubtedly led the Russian president to launch his claim on the Crimea and his aggression against Ukraine. Obama frequently cites polls showing American “war weariness,” but just what is meant by that is not clear. America had won the War in Iraq, and Obama just wanted out. As Elliott Abrams said:

 So we got out, fully, completely, cleanly—unless you ask about the real world of Iraq instead of the imaginary world of campaign speeches. We could no longer play the role we had played in greasing relations between Kurds, Shia and Sunnis, and in constraining Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s sectarian excesses. The result was an Iraq spinning downward into the kind of Sunni-Shia confrontation we had paid so dearly to stop in 2007 and 2008, and ISIS—the newest moniker for al Qaeda in Iraq—saw its chance, and took it.

So we’re back in Iraq—Obama has sent 300 military advisers. That’s a very small number.

I’m inclined to believe that just as members of a family have trouble getting along, so the natural state of world affairs is not peace and harmony. That doesn’t mean that we must be eternally engaged in war. Weakness invites ambitious nations to act on their ambitions.

Putin has long regarded the collapse of the Soviet Union as a disaster and wants to restore its position as a world power. The Mullahs in Iran are quite clear about their ambitions regarding the Great Satan and the Little Satan. The newly enriched and increasingly dangerous fanatics of ISIS have already warned that they will see us in New York. Germany has said the United States must consider a renewed military intervention. “It’s the Americans’ task to deal with security in Iraq.” The  French place the direct cause of the Iraqi implosion on Obama’s decision to back off from air strikes against the Assad regime last August as the fatal step.

Here are some excellent pieces on our current dilemma:


Iraq in Chaos — A Strategic Disaster for U.S. Policy by The Elephant's Child

Another Obama claim is withering away. Al Qaeda is alive and Tuesday, fighters for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, an al Qaeda affiliate known as ISIS has seized total control of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, with a population of nearly 2 million, after four days of fighting. Thousands of civilians have fled, including the governor of Nineveh province, who spoke of the “massive collapse” of the Iraqi army.

ISIS overran the Iraqi city of Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s home town, and closed in on the biggest oil refinery in the country. Tikrit is about 80 miles north of Baghdad. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Since President Obama likes to describe everything he inherited from his predecessor as a “mess,” it’s worth remembering that when President Bush left office Iraq was largely at peace. Civilian casualties fell from an estimated 31,400 in 2006 to 4,700 in 2009. U.S. military casualties were negligible. Then CIA Director Michael Hayden said, with good reason, that “al Qaeda is on the verge of a strategic defeat in Iraq.”

Fast forward through five years of the Administration’s indifference, and Iraq is close to exceeding the kind of chaos that engulfed it before the U.S. surge. The city of Fallujah, taken from insurgents by the Marines at a cost of 95 dead and nearly 600 wounded in November 2004, fell again to al Qaeda in January. The Iraqi government has not been able to reclaim the entire city—just 40 miles from Baghdad. More than 1,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in May alone, according to the Iraq Body Count web site.

The collapse of the Iraqi army in Mosul and its inability to retake Fallujah reflect poorly on the competence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose Shiite “State of Law” coalition won a plurality of seats in parliamentary elections in April and will likely win a third term later this year………………………………………(emphasis added)

ISIS first took hold in Iraq’s neighbor Syria. The “diplomatic surge” the Obama administration promised never happened. They offered a couple of thousand troops but President Maliki didn’t think it was worth the criticism it would cause. Mr. Obama withdrew completely from Iraq, and continued to call it a “dumb war.”He put his desire for a talking point in his re-election campaign above America’s strategic interests, which he didn’t understand anyway.

(click to enlarge)
These battles and the advance of al Qaeda affiliated forces comes in the wake of free elections in April under the threat of jihadi violence on polling days, and  weak governance.

The April election was the seventh time since January 2005 that Iraqis have gone to the polls on a national basis. The land of the purple finger has enjoyed four parliamentary elections, with an average turnout of 63 percent; two nationwide provincial elections, with an average turnout of 52 percent; and a constitutional referendum in which 63 percent of the country turned out to vote (and 79 percent voted “Yes”) on the republic’s inclusive, liberal, federalist constitution.

Every one of these ballots has been judged free and fair by international observers. Even ignoring the local circumstances that make this fact especially remarkable (the constant threat of jihadi violence on polling days, exacerbated by governance so poor that it is a wonder that anyone has enough faith in government to bother to vote at all), Iraqis have once again proven that they are more than deserving of the opportunity presented to them.

Iraq is once again in a state of civil war, but without help it’s going to turn into a tragedy for Iraq and a real threat to the United States. America should provide the help Mr. Maliki requests — drone strikes, weapons, reconnaissance assets, targeting assistance, more training for his forces, even manned airstrikes. If Mr. Maliki and Iraq’s leading politicians agree to settle the deep sectarian conflicts that have left the country in this mess Sunni v. Shiite v. Kurd.  It could be possible with new constitutional amendments, and a constitutional inability to politicize the military. Kenneth Pollack suggests a series of amendments that could bring peace. Unlikely, but if Iraq is to be saved, Americans and Iraqis would have to take hard steps.

It doesn’t help that so many Americans have so much misunderstanding of the Iraq War.

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